Justin Wilcox’s post-game interview—after he led the California Golden Bears to victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels—started off kinda weird. Whoever’s in charge of facilities set him up with chairs branded with “Carolina Lacrosse”. The first 40 seconds of audio are missing, where he undoubtedly attributed the win to the Cal bloggers.
And after the past four years of Cal Football, Saturday’s game itself started off a little weird with our defense forcing a three and out. The defense—which played 89 snaps—provided a lot of key stops and takeaways that made this a back-and-forth, tight game. Wilcox discussed this point during his press conference, repeatedly praising the team for their resilience.
“I’m so proud of our sideline because never for one moment in the game did the offense, the defense, a player, a coach or anybody stand up or look the other way for someone to blame. We just battled the whole time and it really shows how much they care about each other.”
The Bears’s guts helped earn a big win and Wilcox described the post-game attitude of the team.
“It was a special moment in that locker room for our players and our coaches and our support staff—it’s pretty cool. I’d also like to thank our fans who made the trek out here; it’s not an easy trip for them and it was really cool at the end of the game to be able to go and say “hi” to them. ... [But t]his win can’t define us. We’ve got to enjoy tonight and then go back to work tomorrow and continue to grow as a team in all phases. I know they’ll be excited once we hit practice again on Monday.”
One player in particular who earned repeated praise from Wilcox for his resilience was starting quarterback Ross Bowers; Wilcox called him confident and “cool as ice” despite having a little pre-game “energy” as a first-time starter.
Beyond this, Wilcox is starting to tip his hand as to the atmosphere and mentality that he’s trying to instill in his team. Wilcox is teaching self-confidence without entitlement; Wilcox wants his team to focus solely on the things they can control.
“We expected to win the game. With all due respect to North Carolina, we expected to win the game. We knew it would be a battle and we knew there would be some adversity along the way.”
“You never want to take these things for granted—it’s hard to win, so you want to enjoy it and celebrate it and soak up that feeling because that’ll make you want it more. But we were not surprised we won. I want them to enjoy it going home, but I don’t think we were surprised. We expected to come in here and play well. There’s gonna be a lot to clean up, but we played well enough to win.”
“We were never gonna change the location, the time, or the weather, so we don’t worry about those things. We prepare and worry about the things we can control. That’s what we did and I don’t think [the team] ever thought about [those things] otherwise unless you (in reference to the media) ask them about it.”
On top of this being the first win for Wilcox as a head coach, this was the first win for Bowers as a starting quarterback. Bowers described how it felt to start his first college game.
“I would say I had butterflies before the game—I wasn’t so much nervous. I knew our gameplan really well and I knew where we wanted to attack and whom we wanted to attack. I just trusted all the training we had done in fall camp and in spring ball and the offseason workouts. That’s why I think I was confident—I wouldn’t say I was nervous—running out there for the first time thinking “Man, it’s finally here. I finally get my opportunity.” I was probably more stressed just trying to make it count and not let my guys down, not so much “Man, I hope I play so great and have all these yards or touchdowns.” I couldn’t care less about that—as long as we’re just winning, that’s fine with me. After that targeting, there were no more butterflies”
A redshirt sophomore, Bowers shows maturity in taking ownership over his mistakes for his two interceptions rather than blaming any of his teammates or the circumstances. Speaking of those turnovers, Bowers described how he responded to his second interception, which gave the lead to North Carolina.
“I’m a person who thrives off of adversity. Especially when it’s your fault, you better make up for it. I stuck with what I know, my training, and my coaching and didn’t get ahead of that or try to do anything different; I just stuck with what they gave me and just tried to be more consistent throughout each play. We were lucky enough to make some big plays when we needed to, keep the ball moving, burn some time off the clock when we needed to. After that second pick, I knew we had to play mistake-free football; there was nothing we could have done after that—that’s probably the last bad draw I could have the whole game.”
When discussing his teammates, Bowers says that superstar receiver Demetris Robertson is no diva. After Bowers underthrew a critical pass to D-Rob, the signal caller approached him on the sideline to apologize; Robertson was less concerned about racking up stats and wanted to put the team and the win first. According to Bowers, this perspective is not unique for the team, which helps in how they spread the ball and targeted ten different receivers.
As mentioned above, the coaches are building a confidence in which the team expects to win:
“It’s because we’re so worried about us and we’re not so much worried about what they’re doing. That doesn’t mean we’re not preparing or gameplanning, but we’re really just worried about what we’re doing as a unit, how we carry ourselves, and how we do the little things and we just the game play itself out. We just keep doing our jobs and see where that gets us—that’s what every guy who played today did. It felt like a great team win today.”
Beyond this, Bowers elaborated further on the culture that Wilcox et al. are bringing to Berkeley.
“They brought a new culture. They have established a new culture at Cal and it’s the players’ job to keep upholding it and taking it as far as we can go, keep policing ourselves, and stuff like that. What they don’t even notice is that they’ve brought us closer together as brothers. Maybe it’s b/c I’m playing now, but I feel so much more connected to my teammates. I have a deeper love for my guys and the grind and the process, just to enjoy the journey. They keep hitting on that and it makes it fun. If you buy in, then it’s a fun process. I wouldn’t say they make it easy to buy in, but it just feels like the right thing to do.”
Gotta try not to get too hyped after the win and everything we hear about this staff...
Cal defeated Northwestern 1–0 at home. Apologies to Coach Fitz for not having more preseason coverage of our team for his scouting.
Cal upset #22 UMass! Congrats on the big win!
Men’s Water Polo
K Matt Anderson was named to ESPN’s Preseason All-Pac-12 team, but is it even worth reading that site anymore without their former—excellent—staff?